Coaches help to get most out of life

Greater numbers of people are opting for the focused, short-term help of life coaching rather than seeking in-depth analysis …

Greater numbers of people are opting for the focused, short-term help of life coaching rather than seeking in-depth analysis from a counsellor to solve personal problems. Sylvia Thompson reports

In these times of almost full employment, more and more people are discovering that they need to speak to someone outside their immediate circle of family and friends about the direction - or lack of direction - in their lives.

Rather than seeking analysis of their personal issues with a counsellor, greater numbers are instead opting for more focused, short-term help by talking to a life coach.

"There was a time when people who went for therapy didn't talk about it. Then they began swopping names of good therapists. Now people are swopping names of life coaches they've been to," says Carmel Wynne, life coach, author of Coaching - the key to unlocking your potential and an occasional columnist in the Health Supplement.


"So many people are dissatisfied with their lives, but if you sit down with them and work with them, you sometimes find that they are distorting things and generalising. They have a small problem which they make seem huge," she says.

While life coaching has its origins in the business world, nowadays people from a wide variety of career paths are availing of the services of a life coach.

In the main, life coaches operate as self-employed sole practitioners and training standards will vary from one to another.

However, the Life and Business Coaching Association of Ireland (LBCAI) was set up five years ago to establish minimum standards. Members of the LBCAI must have at least 100 hours' face-to-face training and take out professional indemnity insurance.

"We are working on the establishment of mandatory ongoing supervision of life coaches, so that each coach will have to have a certain amount of supervised work each year," says Ronan Flood, spokesman for the LBCAI.

As the sector is unregulated as yet, life coaches are not obliged to be members of an association and many work independently.

The cost of a coaching session will vary from practitioner to practitioner, as will the number of sessions deemed necessary. Some coaches recommend four to six sessions, while others say that just one session can be enough for some people.

One hour's life coaching can cost between €100 and €250, depending on the reputation and experience of the coach.

According to Wynne, the key to success rests with the coach asking challenging questions and the client becoming aware of self-limiting beliefs, habitual put-downs and negative thinking which have influenced his or her outlook on life.

Coaches will ask clients to look at all aspects of their lives - career, money, health, partner, physical environment, personal growth, fun and recreation, and friends and family.

"At the end of just one session, there should be a lot of clarity," says Wynne. "People should be clear and focused about what they want, what that will do for them, how they hold themselves back, how they will get feedback to go on from there and where they see themselves in five years' time."

And while some people may go to a life coach with the ambition of gaining a promotion, they may end up not seeking that promotion at all, having looked at how it might affect other areas of their lives. "I've had several clients who have downsized," says Wynne.

Better communication skills, understanding people's communication styles and learning techniques to change relationships are key skills people will get from life coaching, according to Betty Cosgrove, another life coach and owner of the Sanas complementary health centre in Churchtown, Dublin.

"People discover their ability to change old patterns which have been blocking career change or causing problems in a relationship," she says.

Both Cosgrove and Wynne are also trained in neurolinguistic programming, a technique which helps people understand how the language they use affects their behaviour and their emotions.

But couldn't your best friend be just as good a listener and adviser?

No, according to Wynne. "The life coach who uses neurolinguistic programming has the skill to tune into language. People tend to self-sabotage and, by knowing how to tune into what they are saying and doing, you can reflect it back to them, which helps them focus," she says.

Cosgrove disagrees. "You'll find some friends who coach each other. They will be able to listen and ask the right questions. A lot of coaching is common sense but some people have lost the ability to work with their own common sense," she says.

Ethically, life coaches should refer individuals for counselling if they believe this would be of benefit.

Cosgrove, however, believes a lot of people are over-counselled and "get stuck in their personal issues".

"Neurolinguistic programming and coaching lifts people out of the blame and shame and brings them to thinking about the situation they are in, which opens doors to communication and owning their own feelings and situations in day-to-day life," she says.

"You can be a healthy adult, no matter what childhood you've had.

"People are aspiring to higher levels of themselves and finding their own beliefs and values, which they can share rather than be victims of structures or other people's beliefs and values."

One aspect of the current popularity of life coaching is that a significant number of the people who go for coaching end up training to become life coaches themselves.

Ann Moloney is a case in point. "I went to a life coach for career reasons initially. I work in software development and I have a background in teaching. I knew it was time to move on and I had no idea what to do. Through life coaching, I looked at every aspect of my life.

"It gave me a chance to take stock. Now, 18 months later, I have decided I want to do life and business coaching. I have just finished a qualification in life coaching and I work part-time in my software development job still."

Primary school teacher Ashling Brennan also went for life coaching herself and then trained to become a life coach, although she continues to work as a teacher.

"My father had done the course and found it hugely beneficial for his business. I was interested in developing my own skills and helping others too.

"It's all about listening to and understanding other people and helping children to appreciate themselves and to respect others in order to create a positive learning environment," she says.

Listening to other people was something that Darbhaile Connell had done plenty of before she decided to try out life coaching.

"I had run an alternative therapies gift shop and healing centre and I felt quite burnt out. I needed clear, practical support and that's exactly what I got. I had to narrow down my options. Now, I've decided to do a BA in performing arts and I feel brilliantly about that."